Malaysia to Open Langkawi to Locals Under Travel Bubble Program

Malaysia plans to reopen the tourist haven of Langkawi islands as it renews efforts to rebuild parts of the economy worst hit by the pandemic.

Langkawi, in the state of Kedah, will open to locals under a travel bubble plan from Sept. 16, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said in a statement Thursday. Other destinations will be allowed to operate when the locality’s vaccination rate hits 80%, he said. 

Malaysia is preparing for life with Covid even as daily cases remain elevated, mirroring Thailand’s tourism-reopening plan based on a pilot project in the popular resort island of Phuket. Covid-19 will be treated as endemic and it is time for Malaysians to learn to live with the virus, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said at a briefing on Wednesday.

New infections have soared despite the containment measures, hitting a record 24,599 in a single day late last month and turning the country into Southeast Asia’s Covid hotspot. The nation added 20,988 cases Thursday. Still, the virus’ effective reproduction rate, or R-naught, has fallen below 1 nationwide for the first time in few months, Ismail Sabri said, amid an increase in vaccination.  

More than 84% of the adult population has received at least one dose, and 64% has been fully inoculated, according to the health ministry. Based on projected data, the average vaccination rate among adults in each state is expected to reach 80% by month-end, and 100% by end of October, Ismail Sabri said. 

“Eventually we have to live with Covid as is the case around the world,” he said.

Meantime, Melaka state will move into the second phase, and Negeri Sembilan into the third stage of the national recovery plan from Saturday after meeting the threshold limits in reducing Covid infections, the prime minister said.

The decision was made by the National Security Council, which will now be renamed as the Special Committee on Pandemic Management, he said. The committee will include representatives from opposition parties as well.